Sounds Like Titanic, a debut memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman, is the definition of an overdeliver.
It starts off with a killer premise. Hindman describes her four years working as a concert violinist, from 2002 to 2006. But the twist is that her music was never actually audible. At her first performance, she realized that she had been hired to play in front of dead microphones — everywhere from malls to a PBS concert special — while a prerecorded performance from another violinist blasted out of the speakers to the audience. And the audience at these performances, Hindman gradually realized, never knew the difference.
The sheer idea of a concert ensemble playing madly and completely silently in front of a rapturous crowd is so surreal, so reminiscent of an acid trip that is also a didactic children’s fable, that Sounds Like Titanic got its hooks into me immediately.
With an idea that compelling, the rest of the book really didn’t have to be better than passable. But then Hindman ups her game.
She isn’t just using her experience as a fake violinist as a wacky story. In her hands, it becomes the starting point for bigger issues. She explores questions about gender, and about how and why, as a young woman, she was only able to feel respected when she was playing her violin in front of a crowd. She explores questions about the economy, and how the student debt crisis drove her to keep working as a fake violinist even as it caused her to lose her grasp on the difference between fiction and reality.
And more and more as the book goes on, Hindman delves into questions about America’s endless appetite for comforting fakery, and how that desire for comfort played out in the post-9/11 era and the runup to the Iraq War.